Friday, February 4, 2011

Tsunami 2004 reveals ancient temple sites

Archaeologists say they have discovered the site of an ancient temple in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the latest in a series of archaeological discoveries in the area struck by 2004 December's tsunami. The brick temple dates back more than 2,000 years to the late Tamil Sangam period and was discovered on the beachfront near Saluvankuppam, just north of a famous World Heritage site at Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram, India is the capital of an ancient kingdom and famous for its elaborate Hindu temples, escaped mostly unscathed, with only three dead and limited damage. The temple was found one layer below a granite temple excavated by the same team in July 2005, causing archaeologists to theorize that the Pallava kings, who ruled the region between 580 AD and 728 AD, built the later temple on top of the remains of the older one. But the finding of that temple and the structures uncovered by 2004 December's tsunami has revived a debate over whether references in ancient literature to cities and towns being submerged by violent waves referred to a tsunami.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) made the discovery while looking for a 9th Century Pallava temple. "The tsunami exposed inscriptions on a huge rock that had previously been protected as a site of importance," said T Satyamurthy of the ASI. "These inscriptions dated back to 935 AD and said that Krishna the Third, from the Rashtrakuda Dynasty in Karnataka, had given gold to a temple to pay for keeping an eternal flame alight. "This led us to dig further. Near the surface we found coins, pottery, stucco figurines and bronze lamps and so we knew there must be something more. Soon we discovered the remains of the 9th century Pallava temple." 

As they continued to excavate they came across the earlier Sangam temple. The distinctive shift from courses of brickwork to large granite slabs indicates the different periods. "The Pallavas just built on the brick foundations left behind after the Sangam temple was levelled. The two periods are there, clear to see," said Dr Satyamurthy. 

But it is the question of how these two temples were destroyed rather than their age that has fired the interest of the teams involved. Layers of sea shells and debris in the sand show that tsunami activity had twice leveled the temple complex. "The Pallava structure was destroyed by waves some time in the 13th Century and evidence suggests that beneath it, we are looking at the remains of a brick temple that was destroyed by a tsunami approximately 2,200 years ago," said Badrinarayanan S, a retired director of the Geological Survey of India.

Since the tsunami on 26 December, marine archaeologists have also discovered evidence of large structures on the seabed up to 1km out to sea. They think the structures may be part of a former, legendary city of Mahabalipuram. Myths state the city was destroyed by a flood sent by gods envious of its beauty.
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